Ballina & Richmond River GenWeb

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The Naming of Ballina

Although there is a variety of opinion on the origin of the name 'Ballina', the ideas can be divided up into two main categories. The first is that the town was named after an Aboriginal name & the second that the name was taken from an existing town in Ireland. In truth, there may be some connection between the two possibilities.

There is even some disagreement about which Aboriginal word Ballina's name was derived from. There are numerous possibilities. One deals with oysters & the other with blood, fighting, wounding, dying. The history of Ballina could support either possibility.

The names Woolwich & Deptford were both proposed by officials, but neither name stuck. On the 7th November 1856, the cedar cutter settlement on the mouth of the Richmond River was proclaimed 'Ballina'.

Some of the Aboriginal words & their meanings include:

* "Bullenah" or "Boolinah" - 'Place of many oysters'.
* "Bullen-bullen" (pronounced "Bulna" by the natives) - 'A fight'.
* "Bulluna", "Balluna" or "Balloona" - 'The place of dying' or 'The place of the wounded after a fight'.
* "Bullina" - 'Place where a battle was fought & people were found dying'.
* "Bulun" - 'River'.

Ballina is now a 'place of many oysters'. The fact that this was so in early times is evidenced by the plentiful oyster shells found in middens around the Ballina district.

Ballina was also well known as the site of an Aboriginal massacre in 1852. (More about this can be found in "The East Ballina Massacre", further down the page). An elderly gentleman named Mick Howard often told tales about Aboriginal warfare: 'Local Aborigines' defended themselves against the 'Clarence Aborigines'. The warfare had taken place behind Dann's Lane, South Ballina, in the sandhills. This would have been in the late 1800's. He said that South Ballina was the site of fighting. The location gave the locals the advantage. It was easier to throw weapons downhill than uphill.

Some believe the naming of Ballina to be a combination of all possibilities. The area may have been known as 'the place of many oysters' until 1852, when it may have changed to the similar word for 'the place of blood & wounding'. It is likely the European word "Ballina", known from Northern Island, was then adopted.

A Brief History of Ballina

Ballina is nestled on the Far North Coast of NSW at the mouth of the Richmond River (the longest navigable river on the coast of NSW). It is now a popular family tourist centre with an array of natural assets that are as appealing to the modern day 'squatter' as that of old. About 4 or 500 Aborigines lived around Ballina in the early 1800's. Most were around North Creek & South Ballina.

The first inhabitants of the Ballina area were the Aborigines of the Bunjalung tribe. Food such as: oysters, fish, eels, carpet snakes, wallabies, possums & flying foxes were cooked on hot coals. Nuts & yams were cooked in hot ashes. As with many tribes, wichetty grubs were a delicacy. Shell middens are today scattered around the Ballina area in evidence of the Aborigines' culnary delights.

On August 26, 1828, Captain Henry John Rous discovered the Richmond River. He anchored the frigate H.M.S "Rainbow" at the mouth of the river & travelled upstream with two lieutenants in a pinnace, as far as Tuckean Swamp. They notes thick undergrowth, tall palm trees & the huts of Aborigines. The Richmond River was named after Captain Rous' brother's best friend, the Duke of Richmond & Lennox.

During the next 14 years there was no further European influence. The discovery of good land across the Blue Mountains, combined with favourable seasons saw settlers occupying those areas.

Cedar-cutters worked their way through the cedar on the South Coast & Manning River. By 1836 they had reached the Clarence River. The Aborigines called the cedars "wudgie - wudgie" trees. In 1842, friendly Aborigines told Steve King & Joe Maguire (Clarence cedar-getters) about the wudgie - wudgie trees further north. A whale-boat was loaded onto a dray pulled by bullocks. They travelled overland north to Pelican Creek & then rowed down to the river entrance. Cedar tops were evident in the "Big Scrub".

Before the end of the year the story of white settlement in Ballina began. Steve King returned with his family & other cutters on the tiny schooner "Sally". They sailed up the coast from the Clarence. The ship made its way to the foot of the present "Lighthouse Hill" at East Ballina. Some set up camp at "Prospect", where there was a freshwater stream & high ground for camping. Others continued upstram to Gundarimba.

The Settlement of Ballina

"Rum featured prominately in the e equipment of the Richmond River cedar-getters. The rum cask was the axeman's Bible, the grossest scenes of vice his delight" (Ballina Centenary .... The Farmer & Settler November 23rd 1956).
In order to legally cut cedar, cutters were required to obtain a cedar cutter's liscence, for 4 pounds, from Grafton (& later Casino). The liscence did not provide ownership to land, but did allow the cedar-getter to build a hut & cut cedar on unsettled land. Word rapidly spread about the wonderful cedar timber which made small fortunes for the men of the Richmond River. Cedar-getters crossed the bar in tiny vessels in search of the valuable timber.

The first cedar was cut at Prospect & floated down North Creek to the East Ballina sawpit. Here it was cut into filtches (logs).Other cedar camps were established at Emigrant Creek (named after the emigrants Tom Brandon & Henry Williams), Duck Creek (Uralba), Teven, Tintenbar & further up the river. As round logs did not pack well in ships' holds, the timber was squared with axes for easier transport.

The sailing ships destined to transport cedar away from the Richmond, brought rock as ballast from Sydney. This rock was used along the waterfront at Ballina. Many ships were wrecked on the trecherous changing bar with no lighthouse. In 1855, Captain George Easton became the first pilot officer. He ruled the comings & goings of all ships, saving many lives.

As the cedar was cut out, farming pioneers further bought, settled & cleared the Big Scrub to allow fro cattle grazing & the growing of crops. About 50 years after initial settlement, stone walls were extended out from the river mouth in a bid to make shipping safer.

The first land was offered for sale at Ballina in 1856, at the Casino Lands Office. By 1860, dairying & general farming had become the way of life for settlers.

Massacre of Aborigines


The Native Mounted Police were formed in 1848 in NSW. The Mounted Police members were from subdued tribes & were under the command of European Officers. The Native Mounted Police enforced European law on tribes with which they had no bonds. In 1853-4, at an area close to the present day East Ballina Golf Course, the Native Police slaughteres at least 30 - 40 men, women & children while they slept. It is believed that some Aborigines from north of the Tweed River had murdered some Europeans & that the murderes had fled south towards the Richmond. On the night prior to the raid, the Mounted Police stayed at Ainsworth's Public House, 'The Sailor's Home'. That is, the European troopers stayed in the Hotel while the black trackers stayed outside. At 3 am the Mounted POlice rode out to where between 200 to 300 Aborigines lay asleep in camp. The troopers & trackers surrounded the cmp & opened fire. The Patrol then headed north.

The white settlers of East Ballina were disturbed by the unprovoked attack on the friendly natives. They reported the massacre to the NSW Government to no avail. Eventually the settlers were told to mind their own business unless they wanted trouble.


The Arakwal people were a South Ballina clan numbering about 200 people during the early development of Ballina Township. During the early 1860's a mass poison atempt was made. Poisoned flour was given to the Aborigines to make damper. They took it to their camp at South Ballina for preparation & cooking. The old people & children of the tribe refused to eat the damper as it was a new food. Upon waking the next morning, survivors found nearly 150 adults dead.

Copy of page originally transcribed by Mandy O'Neill (content remains unedited)
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